June 16, 2014

Talinn, Estonia

Jun 2011

When I was a teenager, the Soviet Union was a big deal.  Reagan labelled it as an evil empire.  Countless James Bond movies were about young Bond fighting against one evil scheme or another of the Soviets.  Pakistan found a good business model in positioning itself as a frontline state against the Soviet Union.  

In 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed.  Several of its vassal states suddenly became free.  Can you imagine a few million people joining hands and forming a line, border to border, and singing their way to independence?  People of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia did!  The newspapers proclaimed this as “Singing revolution” in those days.  

Of these, Estonia had a chequered history that can be briefly summarized in four sentences:  First the Danes occupied and ruled it.  Then the Swedes occupied and ruled it.  Then the Russians occupied and ruled it.  Then the Soviet Union annexed it as a state.

In spite of such affection from aliens for its land, the Estonians kept a few things going for centuries.  They kept their ethnic identity.  They kept their language.  They kept their religious fervor.  The Estonian nation survived nicely (despite a significant part of the population being deported to cool resorts in Siberia by the Soviets).

When we visited Talinn, we were expecting to see another Prague, a city of dusty unimaginative cuboids of buildings with the newly liberated youth adding graffiti everywhere. 

We were surprised.  Since 1989, Estonia has grown quite rapidly to be a success story.  It leads the world in e-governance.  Talinn is the one of the most digitized cities in the world.  Talinn is claiming its place as the silicon valley of Northern Europe.  (Skype came out of Talinn).

We took a day trip cruise to Talinn from Helsinki.  Talinn’s skyline told us half the story:  a combination of the domes and spires of Hanseatic League era and skyscrapers of the Information Technology era. 

Talinn Skyline from Cruise ship
 After berthing in the terminal, we walked through Kadriorg Park to the palace of Peter the Great.
Palace of Peter, the Great
A local girl, bedecked in flowers, was advocating a political cause we did not understand.  We supported it because she seemed innocent and was beautiful!
Estonian activist, near Amphitheater
We went to Toompea (German, for Cathedral Hill) where the Parliament and (what else, of course) the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral are located.
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral (under renovation)
From Toompea it was a nice descent into the Old Town (one of the most beautiful old towns in the world; an accredited world heritage center). 
Old Town, an accredited World Heritage Center
Luhike Jalg, a street with stairs through Old Town
The Old Town has a “Viewing Platform” that provides a panoramic view.
Panormaic view of Old Town from Viewing Platform
When you climb down fully, you reach Raekoja Plats, a very spacious town square lorded over by the city hall in one corner.  (The square sports an Indian restaurant too!)
Raekoja Plats, the town sqaure
Raekoda City Hall
The street adjacent to the City hall takes us, if you don’t pause at the restaurants with their inviting aroma or get distracted by the Pedal-o-pub, to the Freedom Square and the Freedom monument. 
Dunkri Street

Kullaseppa Street

Freedom Monument
Explore the side streets to see a few sights including the landmark Oleviste Kirik. 
Old Town from down below
Oleviste Kirik
Your trip will not be complete unless you take a bite at one of the road side restaurants of Pikk Street or Katarina Kaik.
Pikk Street
At the end of the day, as your board your cruise back to Helsinki, you realize that if Karl Marx ever needed an argument challenging his precepts, he can find one in Talinn!

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